A December 2005 trip
to Hilton Head by Lovestogo
Quote: Our first visit to Hilton Head produced frustrations in navigating the area, but soon those frustrations turned into a deep appreciation for the island's desire to keep their city "natural". Join us as we walk the beaches, explore, sightsee, and eat our way around Hilton Head Island.
Our first visit to Hilton Head was the week after Christmas. The weather was perfect with daytime temperatures in the upper 50’s and 60’s with a light jacket being too much on some days. However, once the sun disappeared, it quickly turned chilly.
We loved walking on the beach and caught an awesome sunset one evening. As the sun swiftly disappeared, the ocean and sand glowed a soft pastel pink with the baby blue colored sky separating the two ever so graciously. We stopped to photograph the great blue heron standing at the water’s edge and the two dolphins swimming close to the shoreline. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Hilton Head’s beaches are extremely wide and flat, which makes it a great place for flying kites, throwing Frisbees, walking, biking, running, or just simply sitting and relaxing.
Another great memory is the two alligators we spotted while walking at the Pinckney Wildlife Refuge. We should have known we couldn’t go an entire week on vacation without seeking out some wildlife.
The thing we loved best about was the fresh seafood, the cleanliness of this upscale beach area and the lack of tacky neon t-shirt stores.
Plan your trip for arrival in Hilton Head during the daylight hours. Street signs are painted a dark evergreen color with off-white/beige lettering and are not reflective. Streetlights are at a minimum and street signs are not visible until you are almost upon them. By this time, it’s too late. We entered many businesses and restaurants via the back way.
Stop at the welcome center and buy the detailed city map for . It’s money well spent and will save you many hours of aggravation and frustration. Plan your route by jotting down the address and finding it on the map. Pay attention to landmarks and mile markers as they prove to be very beneficial when searching for an address.
The city of Hilton Head is determined to keep the area ‘natural,’ and when driving in for the first time you’ll be surprised to see signs no taller than 6 feet and all painted natural colors such as light blues, browns/beiges, and greens so they blend in with the natural landscapes. Very few signs are lighted and almost all businesses, even your hotel or condo, are located behind the tree line which makes them extremely difficult to find… especially at night.
The island has many miles of bike trails and we saw people, young and old, taking advantage of the warm December days by riding rented bikes. Rental is very inexpensive and Hilton Head Bicycle provides free delivery, pickup, locks, and baskets. There are several bike rental companies with most advising to reserve your bikes in advance and some even offering discounts for making advanced arrangements.
A car is the best way to see the island and can be rented through Avis, Hertz, Dollar, Alamo, Thrifty, Budget, Enterprise, or National if you are flying into Savannah, which is the nearest major airport. Delta, US Airways, Northwest, United Express, Continental Express, and American Eagle have flights in and out of Savannah, Georgia.
US Airways Express (Piedmont Airlines) services the small Hilton Head airport. Rental cars are available through Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty. Taxi and limo service are available with taxi rates around the island ranging from to , depending upon your destination. Be aware that hotels on Hilton Head Island do not provide shuttle service from the Hilton Head airport.
Hotel | "Port O Call"
Port O Call is just one of many RCI Gold Crown Resorts on Hilton Head Island. Holiday check-in was a breeze; we were given our room package, along with directions, and a “welcome” package with area information. We were provided with an opportunity to choose from several nice local trips for attending a timeshare presentation, but were not hassled/pressured or contacted after saying “no thanks”.Our two bedroom/two bath condo had a small bedroom with two twin beds, large closet, small TV/separate VCR. It opened into a full size bathroom with a tub/shower-combo. The master bedroom was huge and had a very comfortable king size bed with another TV. Immediately to the right was another large bathroom containing an oversized whirlpool tub and a ceramic tile shower.The kitchen contained full size appliances and the cabinets were stocked with plenty of dishes/pots/pans for cooking, including seven dishwasher detergent packets. A bar separated the living room from the kitchen and it had a glass top table with six chairs, sleeper sofa and two ‘easy’ chairs. A 19-inch TV, separate DVD player, and a combo cassette/CD player provided the week's entertainment since all three TVs had 232 satellite channels. My husband thoroughly enjoyed listening to the blues on the XM radio and we only checked the weather on the TV. A stackable washer/dryer and one small box of ‘Surf’ laundry powder were provided.A large heated outdoor pool, small hot tub, and several tennis courts were immediately outside our unit. A free hour of tennis is available each day. Beach access is close by… no more than a quarter of a mile. A provided code gets you in/out of the gate, and Sandpiper Avenue is only three short streets away. There are however, several steps that have to be climbed to access the beach, (5 or 6 on the one side, 10 to 12 on the other side). Dial-up internet service is available with local access numbers for AOL, Earthlink and Mindspring. Temporary local internet access can be obtained through Hargray Communications. The phone has to be activated for making long-distance calls, however, local calls and 800 numbers are free and do not require phone activation. Cell phones do not work inside the units, but they do work outside. We were really excited about our condo, but I had noticed an odor upon entering that was similar to professional bug spray. I understood why when I went to the glass sliding doors that went out onto the screened porch. A giant cockroach, bigger than a quarter, was lying upside down by the chair— luckily, it was almost dead. Not a good first impression… another large one, along with several smaller ones, were found dead later in the week. Never in my 20 years of timesharing, or 35-plus years of staying in motels, have I encountered roaches. Port O Call is an exceptional resort and I would have rated it as “highly recommended,” but after encountering roaches and fearing taking them home with us, I can honestly only rate it as “recommended”.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 30, 2006
Port O' Call
Hilton Head, South Carolina 29928
The Crazy Crab was our favorite place to eat while in Hilton Head.After visiting the Discovery Museum on the north end of the island, we walked across the parking lot for lunch at The Crazy Crab, which had been highly recommended by my dentist, who has a second home on Hilton Head Island. Hungry, we were eagerly anticipating "fresh seafood." The restaurant has a laid-back nautical theme, and its backside is covered with glass windows, which provides an excellent view of the two docked shrimping boats in the marshland. We were lucky enough on both visits to obtain waterfront tables. Since our first visit was mid-afternoon, we were able to select from the lunch menu, which is considerably cheaper than the evening’s dinner menu. My taste buds were screaming for some fresh shrimp and scallops; it didn’t take me long to make my selection, the Half & Half option, which allowed you to combine any two fried entrees. French fries and coleslaw were served with the meal for $11.95. While we were waiting for our meal, our server brought a small wooden salad bowl filled with fresh hush puppies. These serve perfectly as an appetizer to munch on--no need to spend extra money; just make sure you don’t fill up on these little jewels, because the main entrée is a heaping plate of food.The shrimp and scallops were absolutely delicious! The breading was extremely light and there was no heavy “fried” taste. I savored every succulent bite! Robert enjoyed several of my items as well, as he remarked that he should buy a kid's meal, since he usually ends up with half of mine!We returned to the Crazy Crab a couple days later and selected from the dinner menu. They had a “Special of the Day,” which included blackened mahimahi, crab cake, and shrimp for $21.95. I couldn’t pass this up; it had some of my favorite foods. Robert chose the Broiled Seafood platter ($19.95), which consisted of shrimp, scallops, crab cake, fresh fish, and stuffed flounder. Both dinners came with a tossed green salad and baked potato or rice. Watching a beautiful sunset, complete with gently swaying marshland grasses, topped off our dining experience this evening.There is an outside bar, and a large deck holds several dining tables, with some being covered by umbrellas or the building’s wide eaves. This would surely be the place to enjoy a drink or a meal in the spring or fall months. A small fenced-in area had a sand box with a slide and another couple of pieces of equipment to keep the kids entertained.Crazy Crab is a family restaurant with two locations (Harbour Town/Highway 278) and serves mostly seafood, but does offer fried/roasted chicken and a New York Strip/rib-eye steak for those non-seafood lovers. A kid's menu includes cheese pizza, fried shrimp, fish and chips, hamburger, hot dog, or chicken fingers ranging from $3.95 to $6.95. You won’t regret choosing this restaurant if you are a seafood lover.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 30, 2006
149 Lighthouse Rd
Hilton Head, South Carolina 29928
Restaurant | "Hudson's on the Docks"
Hudson’s on the Docks is a friendly, down-to-earth restaurant located on the Intercoastal waterway on the north end of Hilton Head Island. This restaurant is located off the main thoroughfare, and one has to travel through "normal communities" to arrive at its location.We arrived before the restaurant’s 5pm opening and walked around the docks, taking photos of the working boats that were pulled up dockside. Scenes from the movie “Forrest Gump” were filmed here, and the Bubba Gump Shrimp boats are the same boats that deliver fresh seafood to Hudson’s patrons. (Bubba’s mother was a local HHI resident who auditioned for the part). We were seated at one of the waterfront tables and had an extremely nice and friendly server (Carlton) who told us that he had worked at Hudson’s for over 12 years. He politely answered our many questions as we fired them off, one after another. We were contemplating which seafood dish to choose from the dinner menu when we were presented with several early bird specials. The early bird specials are served daily from 5 to 6pm and include a house salad or their famous 7-day coleslaw, baked potato, rice, or fries and a drink, with a choice of either a soft drink, glass of wine (Burgundy, Chablis, Blush) or a Michelob/Michelob Light draft beer. Selections of dinner entrees included seafood pasta, local shrimp, sea scallops, prime rib au jus, the catch of the day (regular/blackened), crab meat-stuffed shrimp, or fried oysters, or you could create a two-item seafood platter of sea scallops, shrimp, tilapia, or oysters--all this food for $13.99. We chose an early bird special and were glad that we had arrived early, both for the food special and so we didn’t have to wait in line. (We were told that the wait is sometimes over 2 hours in the summer.)A fresh basket of hush puppies (made from a secret recipe) melted in our mouths. They were a perfect mixture of corn meal and onions, lightly seasoned and fried a golden brown. They were not heavy when eaten; therefore, it was easy to keep munching on them until our salads arrived.Hudson’s serves an 8 oz. filet mignon, 12 oz. NY Strip Steak, 16 oz. prime rib, or two barbecued or herb-marinated chicken breasts if you are not a seafood lover. These entrees range from $13 to $20, as do most of the seafood entrees.If there is any room for desserts, Key Lime, Chocolate Bourbon Pecan, or Bessie’s favorite Peanut Butter Pie are favorites at $5 each.If going to Hudson’s, plan on arriving early, as parking is limited around the restaurant. An overflow parking lot is shared with the nearby Charley’s Crab restaurant. Also, if you are in the Oyster Bar (opens at 11am) when the restaurant opens, you are given priority seating.In addition to having another fresh-seafood meal, our server was very attentive and we got to witness yet another gorgeous South Carolina sunset.
Hudson's Seafood House-Docks
1 Hudson Road
Hilton Head, South Carolina 29925
Restaurant | "Prescott's Steaks & Seafood"
We chose Prescott’s Steaks & Seafood for our final Hilton Head dinner. The ad for Prescott’s in the "Hilton Head Restaurant Guide" sounded wonderful, as they touted an amazing 15-foot soup and salad bar, along with all the low-country favorites: shrimp, oysters, scallops, fish, devil crab, mussels, crawfish, peel & eat shrimp, chicken, ribs, veggie... you get the idea... lots of food! While the advertised price was a little steep at $23, the buffet sounded nice since you had a variety of items to select from and wouldn’t be stuck with choosing just one or two items.We arrived at 5pm, just as the restaurant opened. The restaurant is designed with brick arches inside, and the three gleaming white sailboats provided an immediate photographic opportunity. The top floor reminded you of being in Louisiana’s French Quarter. I kept waiting for individuals to throw beads over the black metal railing, but it never happened. While the kitchen staff was running behind and still preparing the bar’s seafood, we started with a salad. There was a large selection of salad items to choose from, not just in salad fixings, but any type of salad you could imagine; pasta salad, three bean salad, potato salad… the list went on and on. Not wanting to fill up on salad, we kept checking on the hot food bar, which already had fresh vegetables out. Robert raved about the rice and pinto beans, but since it didn’t sound appetizing to me, I didn’t even sample this combination. Besides, I was waiting for the main course… the fresh seafood. We had been in the restaurant for approximately 40 minutes before the shrimp/scallops/clams etc., made their appearance onto the buffet bar, and if you didn’t pay attention they would quickly disappear before you had an opportunity to get any. The service was good with our server being very attentive, our drinks were always filled, and an empty plate didn’t sit long. Although I thought the cost of the buffet was high, at some restaurants you can pay that price for a single entree with one or two side items. Considering you have the salad bar and a large selection of vegetables and fresh seafood to choose from, in reality, the price isn’t that excessive. Our total was $63, including tip, for 2 buffets, 2 drinks (iced tea), and Robert splurged by having a dessert that was not included in the buffet price.Prescott’s has a menu to order from with most entrees being priced from $13 to $25 for the evening meal. A children’s menu (under 5 is free) is available with burgers, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, hot dogs, fried shrimp, and even a 6-ounce New York Strip Steak for $8. The price for a children’s buffet (ages 5-11) is $11. Prescott’s is also open for lunch (some restaurants are not).Prescott’s was a little tricky to locate, and as usual, we passed it up and entered from the backside. However, we enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was good.
Prescott's Steaks & Seafood
1034 William Hilton Parkway Highway 278
Hilton Head, South Carolina 29926
Attraction | "Pinckney Wildlife Refuge"
Who would think a national wildlife refuge could be on the beach?
The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge lies between Skull Creek (the Intercoastal Waterway) and Mackay Creek as you enter onto Hilton Head Island from Highway 278. It's 4,053 acres are used to protect and provide habitat for threatened or endangered species. They are also a nesting habitat for resident and migratory birds. Four islands form the refuge; Corn, Little Harry, Big Harry and Pinckney Island, with only Pinckney Island’s 1200 plus acres being open to the public.
Pinckney Island was developed into a working plantation by the Pinckney family starting in 1804, which removed the maritime forest and drained and tilled the rich, fertile soil in order to produce sea island cotton. The plantation flourished until it was inhabited by Union troops during the Civil War. After the war ended, the plantation did not prosper and was sold in 1937 to James Bruce, a New York banker who planted hardwood and pine trees, made ponds to attract waterfowl, and restored over 70 percent of the farm fields. He used the land as a hunting reserve, and even though it was sold in 1954, the new owners continued to use the land as a game preserve. In 1975 the land was donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be used as a national wildlife refuge.
We visited the refuge on a warm, sunny December day after Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed our walk down the wide graveled roadway with cameras in hand, looking for any signs of wildlife. We strolled past salt marshes, tidal creek basins, huge old trees supporting large strands of Spanish moss, and several benches that could provide hours of solitude and bird watching.
One of the first trails we took was to Ibis Pond, which is 1.2 miles round trip. The trail is not a narrow dirt trail, but is instead an extremely wide mowed path through the grass. As we strolled around Ibis Pond, different species of ducks were darting in and out around each other, playfully fighting and doing head dives for food. Robert, with his animal-spotting trained eyes, found an alligator stretched along a fallen tree, soaking up the warm South Carolina sunshine. A little farther around we found another alligator lying on the bank, and on the opposite side of the pond was a tree full of white Ibis. We ventured on up to Osprey Pond, which was 3 miles round-trip.
Pinckney Wildlife Refuge is a popular place to walk or ride a bike. The natural marshland provides a perfect opportunity for photography enthusiasts, and best of all there is no charge to enjoy this natural environment. Take water with you; there also are no bathroom facilities or shelter in case of increment weather. Saltwater fishing and shell fishing are allowed from boats only, which can be launched at the public boat ramp across from the refuge entrance.
Go ahead, do something different; stop at Pinckney Island and enjoy yourselves.
Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge
Lands End Drive
Hilton Head, South Carolina 29926
Attraction | "Red Trolley Island Tour"
The Red Trolley is a good way to sit back and familiarize yourself with area attractions and their locations while enjoying a tour of Hilton Head Island. This tour introduced us to areas we would totally have missed, areas that we went back to and explored more in depth on our own time.
This tour is given in an open air trolley, but on this sunny and windy December afternoon the thick, clear, vinyl sheets were pulled down and tied to keep out the cool winds. During the spring and fall months, this tour would be a blast.
A two and a half hour tour gives a scenic orientation of the island, making stops at a Gullah cemetery where the driver/guide provides historical information that dates back to the Civil War. Another drive-by stop gives you a glimpse into the lives of slaves who toiled and died in the dangerous indigo fields. The tour also travels to scenic Harbour Town in the Sea Pines Plantation where you have a short time (40 minutes) to explore the shops, marina, or climb to the top of the lighthouse. We opted to pay the $2 fee and climb the 130-plus steps to the top of the lighthouse for a fantastic but windy view. The guide points out items of interest along the way and gives tidbits of information about living on the island, as well as provides answers to any questions that may be asked.
The Gray Line Red Trolley Hilton Head Island Tour leaves from two different locations, each having different schedules:
Phone Gray Line locally at (843)681-8212 or (800)845-5582. A $2-off per person coupon is in the “101 Things To Do” book, which can be picked up at the Visitors Center/Coastal Discovery Museum. Every $2 coupon helps with the $25 per person fee.
Note: If leaving from the Coastal Discovery Museum, you have to check in upstairs with the trolley driver starting at 1pm. We made our reservations by calling Gray Line’s main number and were told that if paying by credit card, the credit card information has to be given to Gray Line when the reservation is made, but if paying cash just present your discount coupon and cash to the driver when you check-in.
Gray Line also offers scenic trolley tours from Hilton Head to Beaufort, Savannah, and Charleston.
Old Town Trolley Tour
Hilton Head, South Carolina